Pro & Con: Finding Materials That Support A Position

Picture of magnifying glass

How To Find Sources Of Opinion

One assignment many students will encounter requires finding periodical articles or other materials which support or oppose a particular position. This pathfinder is intended to suggest some techniques which can help.

1. Use sources of Information Which Always Include "Pro" and "Con" Arguments 

There are several sources which always, or nearly always, include both "pro" and "con" positions on a topic.

Books

Two series of books, called Opposing Viewpoints and Current Controversies, deal with controversial subjects. Each chapter of a book in one of these series deals with a separate subtopic of the overall subject, and every "pro" chapter has a corresponding "con" chapter. Find these books in the library's catalog by typing "Opposing Viewpoints Series" or "Current Controversies" in the search space as Series Title. You can sort the resulting list of books alphabetically by tile, if you wish. Or try this: using the Keyword search in the catalog, type a word dealing with your subject and a word from the series title. Use "AND" to combine them For example, "animal AND rights AND controversies" in the Keyword search would find the book The Rights Of Animals in the Currrent Controversies series. The title key word search finds words within the chapter headings as well as in the book title.

Chapters from these and other viewpoint books are available online in the Opposing Viewpoints in Context database. Book chapters are identified as Viewpoints.

Another series that deals with controversial subjects is called The Reference Shelf. "Shelf AND families" would find Families: Traditional And New Structures, one of the books in the series.

CQ Researcher, Issues & Controversies, and Opposing Viewpoints in Context

Another source which has some "pro" and "con" content is CQ Researcher. This is a weekly magazine, each issue of which covers one newsworthy topic. The library has online access. Sections of the online magazine called "Overview" and "Pro-Con", ask and give views on several questions. For example, in the issue called "Gun Violence," the questions are about possible measures society might take to reduce gun violence:

  • "Should schools adopt additional security measures to try to prevent mass shootings?"
  • "Should it be harder for someone with a history of mental illness to obtain a gun?"
  • "Should laws limiting the carrying of concealed weapons be relaxed?"
  • "Should guns be allowed on college campuses?"

You can access CQ Researcher online. If you are accessing the database from outside the Chemeketa campus, you will need your My Chemeketa user name and password. CQ Researcher is also indexed in Gale Academic OneFile.

Issues & Controversies is a periodical similar in some respects to CQ Researcher. It covers current and controversial topics and presents pro and con information about them. You can access Issues & Controversies online. If you are accessing the database from outside the Chemeketa campus, you will need your My Chemeketa user name and password. In Chemeketa's library the printed Issues & Controversies is shelved in the Reference Collection at 070.41 Is7.

Opposing Viewpoints in Context is a Gale database that provides background information and viewpoint articles on controversial issues. The database includes well over 9,000 viewpoint articles, along with topic overviews, court case overviews, and organization profiles. Access Opposing Viewpoints in Context on our database pages.

The "Expert Picks," "Viewpoints" and "Reference" lists on the search results page have chapters from Opposing Viewpoints, Current Controversies, and other series of books that have controversial content and are published by Gale.

Pro & Con Online -- Congressional Digest is a source that gives the full content of Congressional Digest, a magazine that covers topics being debated in the U.S. Congress. Access Pro & Con Online on our database pages.

Congressional Testimony and Political Transcripts

Gale General OneFile provides coverage of congressional testimony ( Congressional Hearing Transcript Database and Political/Congressional Transcript Wire), as well as other documents. By using the Advanced Search feature that lets the user limit results to a single magazine, you can find congressional testimony. In the example below, we have searched for the keywords "Internet and privacy" in Political/Congressional Transcript Wire and Congressional Hearing Transcript Database.

picture of Gale search screen

Be sure to change Keyword to Publication Title in the pulldown menu of the line where you enter the word "Congressional."

The names and institutional associations of witnesses who testify could be used to search for more articles.

Public Agenda Online

A web site which contains a selection of arguments on controversial topics is Public Agenda Online. The Discussion Starters page covers topics in public policy. When you filter by a topic, you will find links to information on that topic. Download the PDF file of a report to find information and "approaches," which are three ways of dealing with a problem, with arguments for and against each.

2. Investigate Advocacy Organizations 

Another way to find arguments for and against controversial topics is to investigate advocacy organizations. The Open Directory Project Issues page is a convenient place to find links to advocacy organizations. Click on an issue of interest, then scroll down to see a list of organizations' Web sites which deal with that issue. The library also has an Encyclopedia of Associations (Reference 060 En12), which describes various types of national-level organizations. It has a key word index. Or try the pamphlet file in Chemeketa's library.

Even if your assignment requires you to find magazine or journal articles, looking at organizational Web sites can be useful. Some sites may list articles supporting their position. Even if they do not, you may find the names of persons associated with that position. You can later use these names as key words or authors in searching a periodical index.

3. Use Magazine and Journal Indexes to Find Advocacy Articles 

Magazines, journals, and newspapers ("periodicals") are good sources for opinion. There is no foolproof way to find all "pro" or "con" articles on a given topic in a periodical index. The indexes do not categorize articles in this way, so the user must exercise ingenuity and good judgment to find and recognize articles supporting a given position. To make things even harder, many debates are "unbalanced" insofar as one position is much more popular than the other, or receives much more media coverage, or sometimes is just easier to find. Here are some tips, written with Gale databases in mind, although the general principles apply to any periodical database.

None of the techniques below is 100% effective in finding only desirable articles. After doing any search, look for words in the article titles that suggest that the desired viewpoint is present.

Use Rhetoric Specific to the Topic 

Some controversial issues have created their own language. Where well-defined positions exist, there may be terms used exclusively by one side or the other in the debate. (A classic example is the abortion issue, in which each side has its own terminology, e.g., "Right to Choose" vs. "Right to Life.") If this is the case, selecting the appropriate value-laden words or phrases as search terms should find articles with the desired slant. If you don't know any key terms to use, you may be able to find some in pamphlets or Web sites issued by advocacy organizations (see #2, above).

Try to put yourself in the position of a person writing from the point of view you seek. For example, an author writing about "protecting water supplies" is unlikely to be in favor of loosening government environmental protection regulations. The writer in favor is more likely to use terms such as "incentive-based stewardship" or "overregulation" or "over-regulation" (note that there are two forms).

If a standard key word search on your term does not find anything, e.g., you type "English first" to find articles favoring the use of only the English language in U.S. schools, and don't find what you need, try clicking on the box marked, "search within full text articles." This will look for the key words anywhere in the text of the article.

Use terms Suggesting Disagreement or Value Judgment in Combination With Subject Terms

If you are looking for a hard-to-find opinion, and no words or phrases specific to the debate present themselves, try combining subject terms with general terms that suggest either disagreement or value judgment, such as:

excessive mistaken misguided
contrasting view proponents opponents
reconsidered misconception benefits
exaggerate myth so-called

Terms can be combined in a search with the search operator, "AND."

      Example:
          genetically modified foods AND misconception*

Choose the Right Index

Different indexes or databases cover different types of periodicals. Choosing the right index can increase the chances of finding an article with the "right" opinion. For example, in general-circulation magazines and news media clearcutting is likely to be discussed in a negative light. If you want an article favoring clearcutting, try looking in a business database such as Business Insights: Essentials, which would include general business magazines and forest-products-industry periodicals. Likewise, searching in a general database one may find only negative articles on the whole-word system of reading instruction. "Pro" articles may be found in one of the education indexes, such as ERIC or Education Fulltext.

Use Imagination -- and the Advanced Capabilities of the Database

How can a searcher find the right combinations of words without numerous searches? Many databases, including Gale databases, have advanced searching capabilities that can save time. One timesaving feature is truncation. In Gale the truncation character is the asterisk (*). Typing "educat*" finds the words educate, educated, educating, educational, etc.

Try to imagine words or phrases that might be in the article you are seeking. For example, an article opposing gun control might talk about "proponents of gun control" or "gun control proponents," or "a longtime proponent of gun control," because proponents of gun control are the "other side" that the author is trying to refute. Here is an example of a search which might be done with "search within full text articles" checked off:

          proponents AND gun control

One could then weed through all the resulting articles, which include the word "proponents" and the phrase "gun control," not necessarily together. It might be more efficient to use a proximity operator, however, and search on

          proponent* N3 gun control

This search uses the "near" proximity operator to find "proponent" or "proponents" within three words of "gun control," in any order. It will find "proponents of gun control" or "gun control proponents," or "an outspoken proponent of gun control." Proximity operators are particularly useful in searching the full text of electronic articles.

Finally, the searcher can "nest" search operators by using parentheses.

          su marijuana and medical and (detrimental OR harmful)

In the above example, "su" indicates that "marijuana" is the subject of the article. The word "medical" must appear in the article along with either the word "detrimental" or the word "harmful," or both. Using Gale's Advanced Search screen makes this search easier:

Picture of Advanced Search Screen

In the illustration we have used the multiple lines and the pull-down menus to create a search that is exactly the same as "su marijuana and medical and (detrimental OR harmful)."


To comment or request help, please e-mail Reference or call 503.399.5231.

Address of this page: http://library.chemeketa.edu/instruction/pro-con.php

Updated: 13 November 2013